Sunday, June 01, 2008

No police in my sanctuary, s'il vous plait

(I believe that is the longest title I have ever posted! OK, back to business.)

It's Sunday. I am a few hours returned from church service. When I am at church, I recognize the need to take on "servant leadership," but this part of my personality goes round and round with the spoiled child who just wants to sing, dance (oh yes, dance at church, my goodness), pray, listen and love. I want to soak up my worship experience; process it; file it away and release it back to the universe (as my friend Frank would say).

So pleeeeeze, people, can I hang up my sheriff's badge for one hour? (No, I know that I cannot.)

I will share a secret thought with you that most mothers have. Sometimes we even say it out loud: "If you kids would just behave, I wouldn't HAVE to get angry at you." LOL. Yes, that one's a classic.

I have accepted the role of "mother" in many facets of my life and ministry, but I am wrestling with being the police. Read my lips, I absolutely abhor it. I want to hope upon hope that all the ladies from the rehab facility will behave themselves; and I want to pretend I don't notice it when they don't -- like those mothers of young children who try to pretend their toddlers are not throwing a first-class tantrum on aisle 9 at the grocery store. I just want to go to church, people. Is that too much to ask?

Yes, it is.

After lecturing the ladies several weeks ago about starting fires from throwing trash in the ash cans that the church provides in a special "smoking" area, I was proud as any mother when the ladies announced to me the next week, "Ms Tammy, we brought our own trash bag for our trash today!" Yes! My little darlings are growing up. How precious they are. I was so tickled and pleased, in fact, that I didn't even let the Pharisee get under my skin who marched up to me after church and told me I needed to "have another talk with my ladies about leaving during church." He means well, I know that. But how much control can one police mother exert over grown up women? And how much SHOULD I exert?

Today, I walked around the church with another member who is involved in this outreach ministry so I could be shown the new, secret place the ladies were sneaking off to during church. Clever dears, they found a way to stay off the radar of the "techs" who accompany them to church and forge a new trail to another, more remote locale to smoke and drink their coca-colas. She and I strategized about how to prevent this latest infraction of the rules. I struggled with the entire conversation as it was playing out, perhaps in a knee jerk rebellious attitude, even asking, "What difference does it make if they go off and smoke and drink cokes there?" You see, I am convinced that there will always be a few who figure out how to break the rules in increasingly creative ways. I don't want church to be just another "lock down" experience for them (or anyone, for that matter). I want them to experience sanctuary. And if they choose to abuse that sanctuary, then don't they have the free will to do so? Must we constantly police them? Pardon the cliche, but what would Jesus do?

It reminds me of those annoying little ants that seem to appear out of nowhere. I had an exterminator tell me once that if you spray bug spray along their chosen little path, all you'll really accomplish is pushing them to discover a new path. Like clockwork (and mysterious clockwork at that), they will always find a secret way in and out that you cannot control.

Of course, on the other hand, if I have agreed to take responsibility for what our church terms "outreach ministries," and these women are a product of that outreach, then I am responsible. And so, turning to the spoiled child in my mind and sternly warning her to be quiet, I suggested we lock certain doors, erect a "gentle reminder" overa another door and offered to make a "sweep" of the facility several times during the worship service. Perhaps I am kidding myself, but I believe next to Elsie, the sweet grandmother who accompanies me each week to the rehab facility, cookies in tow, these women respect me on some level. I suppose if I can look them in the eye, give them the knowing "what are you doing here?" look, perhaps they will be less likely to wander off in the future. (Well, the fact is, if I look at 3 women in this manner, 1 will likely wander off again no matter WHAT I do.)

I don't want sentinels or police posted at every exit of our sanctuary. My goodness, what will other church members and visitors think? Won't we all begin to feel as if we are under surveillance? And even though these women are not "regular" visitors, I have to be very careful about keeping my perspective and asking the question (both to myself and others), if these "sneaking off" women were not from the facility, if they were just people who came to church today, then how would we respond to them?

If you're watching a movie and there's a three year old howling at the top his lungs, what is less disruptive? Everyone deciding to ignore it and focus even harder on the movie, or everyone turning to the mother and offering their advice on how to shut the kid up? I don't know how to communicate to my fellow congregants, "Just ignore it." And I'm not always certain about which situations require patience and tuning out and which require intervention from "mother police officer."

I know that more than anything, I want my thoughts, actions and words to my congregants and our guests to reflect the love of God. If I can accomplish this without bringing police in the sanctuary, hallelujah! I am blessed indeed. Yet the prospect of it is quite overwhelming.

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